Roots

This was the third east coast trip for the traveling bookstore, each memorable in its own way but this one stands out. I didn’t realize until I pulled the bookstore into its spot near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor that I had come back to my roots. I was born in Baltimore. Grew up here through high school. Then left. Over the years found places I wanted to be in the northwest US and in other countries, and nearly forgot this city. But when I parked the bookstore and looked across the harbor, I knew this place shaped me in many ways.

The Baltimore Book Festival is the largest festival the bookstore ever experienced. Three days of families, tourists, hipsters with dogs and hometown bibliophiles walking the promenade. Three days of bright sun reflected on the harbor during the day and magic of the Light City Festival at night. There were so many conversations – with the couple who hosted me, people at the festival, old friends, other vendors, police officers, authors. I tried to understand how the city changed. The population was nearly a million when I was growing up back in the 1950s. Now it is barely over 600,000.

There are blocks of boarded up houses in the city. Bill, a man I went to high school with, invited me to a delicious breakfast in Federal Hill which was hopping on a Saturday morning. I reconnected with Rose, a woman who was friends with my mother, who now lives near the Inner Harbor amidst museums, high rises and cafes. I had people warn me not to walk alone at night. I discovered this is a city rich with the Baltimore Crankie Fest! (if you don’t know crankies check out the Crankie Factory), Artscape, and countless other happenings in the arts. Yet Baltimore has a daunting poverty rate that, depending on who I talked with, is a result of the education system, unemployment, racism, drugs or some combination of these.

I met Sheena who has been a Baltimore police officer for eighteen years and would like to start a traveling bookstore when she retires. I sold my typewriter to an older gentleman from Yugoslavia who now lives in Baltimore. Lee gave an outrageous crankie show at the bookstore on Saturday evening, and then patiently answered questions from people who wanted to know more about this art form. George drove up from Severna Park to bring me Greek lemon chicken soup. Liz sat with me the first morning as we pondered the years and this place. Steve organized the books in my tiny storage area and brought crab cakes. Lisa stepped up numerous times to sell books so I could take a fast break. Sandy collected books from her friends to help my inventory.

Baltimore. I hope you go there if you haven’t been.

Books I was fortunate to come across on this trip…

  • The Lines Between Us: Two Families and a Quest to Cross Baltimore’s Racial Divide by Lawrence Lanahan
  • Portrait of Maquoketa by Rose Frantzen
  • Dakota by Kathleen Norris
  • River of Fire by Sister Helen Prejean

Stopping by

Is there a best bookstore stop? There are so many different ones and so many are surprises. Sturgis, South Dakota was on the trip itinerary but who knew it would turn out to be such a great stop with thought-provoking conversations and delicious food at Jambonz? Or Crete, Illinois. Have you heard of Crete (not the Mediterranean island but the community south of Chicago)? The bookstore set up at Crete Creative Gallery which had a lovely, delicate exhibit by Sherri Denault and a spread of pastries with coffee by the Benton Street Bakery. Women from local clubs who were so well read I felt provincial and artists, photographers and writers stopped by throughout the day.

There was driving the bookstore through twisting golden-forested roads in central Pennsylvania to get to Punxsutawney. I wondered how a town so off the beaten track ended up on the tour. Then I met the sparkling Jeanne Curtis in person who had extended the original invitation. I met her cousins, local librarians, a talented young musician (Samantha Sears), a kid who bought a book about mining for his grandfather, a woman who bought a book about the West for her father, a man who wants to move to Montana to be a fishing guide (please do this, Jason, life is short!), and the man who is one of two official keepers for the groundhogs, Punxsy Phil and Phyllis. I heard about the mines closing and schools consolidating, young people moving away to find work.

In every town there are stories; perhaps it’s a trade where I bring books and individuals give stories – about the grandfather who used to work in a Pennsylvania coal mine, or the mom in Toledo who left her car running as she quickly bought three children’s books. She was on her way to work but wants her kids to grow up reading. Or the woman in Punxsutawney who volunteers for the Parents Teachers Organization and helped put together “Reading Under the Stars” where families gather on a special evening to spread out blankets in the sports stadium and enjoy reading activities. There was the 96 year old woman in Toledo a friend brought to the bookstore. She explained her local library delivers books to her twice a month so she doesn’t need to buy any but she did want to see this traveling bookstore she heard so much about.

Many wondrous individuals. But there are dark moments too. Why do so many women ask if I am afraid to travel alone in this country? The other evening after closing the bookstore, I got a GoFundMe request for a friend with mountains of medical bills. I read a NBC article that the number is now over five thousand children who have been separated from their families at our border. Driving into Maryland from Pennsylvania, I see a Confederate flag.

there are so many

There are places. There are books – those read and those to be read. There are people. And as you can imagine on a bookstore tour of this length, there are many people. Ideally I would have a free day after every bookstore event to note down at least a bit about each person I speak with. But it doesn’t work that way and so there are scribbled notes in my pocket, individuals I think about while driving, a business card someone gave me. Here is a small sampling because although I am completely enamored with books and reading, people are a vital part of why I do the bookstore. I wish I could write about everyone I meet along the way. I wish I could write about you.

Crete Creative Gallery

Tony. The bookstore set up in front of Luminous Brewhouse in Sheridan. A woman with three children and the woman’s mother crowd inside pulling children’s books off the shelves, the mother setting book-buying limits, the grandmother asking how I ever started this unusual business. And Tony walked up, noticed the chaos inside the bookstore. We started talking about Mihaly Csikszentmihaly‘s flow, about veterans hospitals, about real books and e-books. He mentioned having hundreds of books on his phone. I winced. But can you lend a friend a book if it is on your phone? We talked about balance. I took a deep breath.

Al. A tall thin man in an old green station wagon drove slowly pass the bookstore when it was set up in the parking lot of Jambonz Grill in Sturgis. He turned his car around, came back, parked next to the bookstore, unfolded himself from the car and asked, “What is this?” Turned out Al was a book dealer. He took books to shows all over the region, told me that gun shows were the best if you had the right books. After we talked for a while about books, bookselling and politics, he looked through my paltry inventory (compared to his) and found a couple volumes. Then he left promising to come back. A half hour later he did, with two boxes of books to donate, books he felt suited my bookstore but weren’t selling in his business. We talked some more.

Iowa City, Iowa. A dark rainy morning. Street construction. A tiny parking lot. I settle the van and go inside Hamburg Inn No. 2 for a great breakfast of pumpkin pancakes. Seth introduces himself. We had corresponded when I planned the stops on this trip. We talk about the restaurant which is famous in these parts. We talk about the traveling bookstore business. Later when I am outside and the rain has let up, Seth comes out to check how things are going, as though he is my guardian angel on this dreary morning. Customers eventually stop by the bookstore. The lunch crowd shows up at the restaurant. It was a very good day all around.

I never got her name. Stopping in Kadoka, South Dakota to mail letters, I asked the postal worker where I might get a cup of coffee. He pointed to Pocketful of Posies, the florist shop across the street so I went over there. The woman apologized when I walked in for the buckets of flowers everywhere. There were two funerals coming up. She made me coffee. She let me use her restroom. She told me about the young girl who had been hit by a car. About the older man who had died. She never stopped moving, arranging flowers, answering the phone, talking with two men who came in to drop some metal pieces off for the display that would honor their friend.

Deb retired after years working at a university in Rock Island, Illinois. She then embraced volunteering in a wondrous way. She is learning so much about art as a docent at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport. She mesmerized me with stories about the current Mia Feuer exhibit, about how a particular piece of art was constructed, about another artist’s life. She also volunteers with a local hospice. She learned to knit so as she sits with people, she creates a calm rhythm. Often I encourage people to volunteer as a way of helping their community. Deb discovered another reason to volunteer – to continue to grow.

four from the road

  • When having breakfast at Weimers Diner & Donuts in Sturgis, South Dakota, I saw a poster asking for donations. New underwear, tshirts and socks for men were being sought to give to veterans. But why aren’t there federal resources in this country for those veterans? Why is a small town with a population of 7,000 having to find clothing for the individuals who served their country?
  • Through my good fortune of staying with Cathy and Dave, Servas hosts in Sioux Falls, I attended a talk by Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and River of Fire. To say her talk was inspirational does not begin to do it justice. It was one of the most impassioned and articulate talks I have ever heard. If you are unable to catch Sister Helen on her current tour, please read her books.
  • While in Sioux Falls, I also heard about OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), a program under the University of South Dakota. OLLI “brings together curious people who want to learn for the love of it…[and] aims to engage the mind, stimulate the senses and foster learning through an affordable program of classes, tours, lectures, films and active learning opportunities.” Many of the people teaching these classes and leading tours are community volunteers. My mind immediately twirled with the variety of talks and tours that knowledgeable individuals in my community could offer. But I realized my own focus needs to be developing senior housing before getting caught up trying to establish a program like OLLI. That’s just part of Maslow’s hierarchy.
  • Drawn to possibilities. Often people who come to the bookstore ask how it got started, what inspired me. They enjoy the idea of something new, something they hadn’t experienced before, browsing in the confined space of this traveling bookstore. I am also drawn to new ideas – the possibility of putting together community classes with volunteer instructors, learning how Sister Helen Prejean went from exchanging letters with someone in prison to being a voice against the death penalty. We can be drawn to a possibility we may not have previously considered. Then its a matter of taking the next step.

Tour Day #3

St. Rita’s Traveling Bookstore Ukulele from Marla Goodman

The third day on the road with the tour. I set up the bookstore yesterday in Bozeman @wildryewhiskey. Just now pulled into Sheridan, WY to set up in a few hours at Luminous Brewhouse. Between the miles driving to get to these places and the times when the bookstore is actually open, there is reflection and impressions. First, I realized even when I feel kind, there are individuals who set the bar even higher for kindness. Which is good. It lets me see I still have much more to learn.

And I pondered how doing an adventure like this current bookstore odyssey on my own tends to reinforce selfish tendency. After all I get to decide when and where to stop for coffee, which books to put out, which color tshirts to bring along, where to have dinner (and in Sheridan this is easy as I always want to go to the Thai food truck). Thinking on this today between Billings and Crow Agency, it was a reminder to be more cooperative. Because even as sole owner of a traveling bookstore, there are all sorts of people to cooperate with – the business owners who host the bookstore, the individuals who host me, the waitress at the Lariat Country Kitchen in Hardin, MT, the young family who stopped by the bookstore yesterday, the young man on crutches who told me about losing his job.

And that leads into questions as I cross mountains and high plains, what this venture is all about. Because it is easy to cop an attitude that what I am doing with this traveling bookstore is so much better then what Amazon is doing. I can give a kid an extra book and I support local businesses like the cafe in Hardin and the Thai food truck in Sheridan. I talk with people about their life and my life and the world and our challenges. And Amazon doesn’t do any of that when you put in your order and credit card number and then three days later have a box show up at your door.

But being a traveling bookstore does mean using fossil fuels to take the books to Sheridan and Sturgis, Toledo and Leesburg. It is trying to sell books at a price most people can afford but it is not selling them for ninety-nine cents. And while I am out on the road having these conversations and peddling books, I am not in my community using my time there.

Ready…set…go!

Tomorrow is the day. Tomorrow the bookstore heads east on its fall cross country odyssey and then settles for three days at the Baltimore Book Festival. Still sorting out last minute boxes of books because obviously I need to take lots of good books (although I also hope to pick some up along the way). And clothes that will work in the freezing mornings as I cross Montana and Wyoming as well as clothes that will suit milder temperatures in Maryland and Virginia. A month on the road also calls for art supplies (of course I need to make postcards) and a Ray Jacob dulcimer to practice when taking breaks at rest stops.

I have a bag of letters written by locals as when in Washington DC, I plan to have morning coffee with Montana Senators Tester and Daines, and I want to let these two gentlemen know what people in my community are concerned about. In the back of the bookstore I hope to squeeze in a large box of St. Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore tshirts in a rainbow of colors prepared by Savvy by Design and a smaller box of greeting cards with my favorite Jack DeWitt bookstore photo.

Of course I will pack my workhorse Olympia typewriter for customers to express themselves and a good supply of typewriter ribbon and paper. Although usually I have only one copy of each book due to space limitations, I am bringing extra copies of Alicja Edwards‘ memoir, “As God Was Our Witness”, and Anne Johnson’s “Charlotte and Alice” as it is a long trip and I have no doubt many people will be interested in these. There is a tiny first aid kit, too many plugs for various devices, a small broom for sweeping out the bookstore and a flask of Buffalo Trace (in case of an emergency). It is not only a matter of remembering everything a bookseller/adventurer might need on such a trip, but narrowing it down to fit in a rather limited storage space.

And just in case you missed the bookstore itinerary, here’s the latest: Bozeman MT at Wildrye Distillery 10/15 4 – 7pm, Sheridan WY at Luminous Brewhouse 10/16 4 – 7pm, Sturgis SD at Jambonz Grill & Pub 10/17 4 – 8pm, Sioux Fall SD at Kaladi’s Bistro 10/19 8am – 3pm, Iowa City, IA at Hamburg Inn No. 2 10/21 from 8am – 2pm, Crete IL at Crete Creative Gallery 10/23 from 9:30am – 5pm, Toledo OH at Monroe Street Diner 10/25 from 8am – 1pm, Punxsutawney PA at Punxy Phil’s Family Restaurant 10/26 from 9am – 2pm, Leesburg VA at Loudoun Brewing 10/28 from 2 – 8pm, Baltimore MD at the Baltimore Book Festival 11/1 -3 from noon to 10pm, and in Woodstock IL Isabel’s Family Restaurant on 11/6 9am – 1pm.

It is a traveling bookstore after all.

Groundwork

Groundwork seems like the perfect word for what happens in preparing for a long distance traveling bookstore tour. There is mapping the route of the bookstore across the country, there is finding places to park and set up the van/store, and finding places for me to sleep at night. And there will be lots of ground to cover on this upcoming trip. It will be over five thousand miles (eight thousand kilometers) from Eureka, MT to the Baltimore Book Festival and back. At the end of this post, you can see dates and places in case the bookstore will be in your neighborhood.

Before the bookstore even pulls out of town on this trip to Baltimore, I am touched by all the help and offers. As usual with this unique business, it takes a lot of folks to make a trip like this happen – finding places to set up, finding places to spend the night, insuring there will be book supplies along the way. With the traveling bookstore turning five (yes, it’s true – been doing this since the summer of 2015), it seems there are even more people reaching out to help.

I don’t take it for granted. I very much appreciate and marvel at it all. Recently I talked with a secondhand bookseller in another Montana town. He asked where I sourced my books. I explained it’s a rather unusual business model, but people give me books. He nodded dubiously suspecting these donors were friends and neighbors, and asked, “But what about when you are on the road?” I explained even then people donate books. He wondered why people didn’t donate books to his brick-and-mortar store. I didn’t have an answer. I just know that for whatever reason, enough books come my way to keep the traveling bookstore going.

Another person asked how I manage housing on a long trip like the upcoming one. I explained I tend to stay with people, often people I know, but sometimes with people who know people I know. Or other times I stay with Servas hosts (and if you don’t know about this organization and you like to travel/host, definitely check it out). Actually the traveling bookstore maintains Servas’s mission which is to provide opportunities for personal connections among people of diverse cultures toward the goal of promoting world peace, goodwill and understanding. I am not entirely sure the bookstore with its wares and conversation helps to promote world peace but I believe it does nurture goodwill and understanding in its own small way.

In the last few weeks there have been bookstore conversations with a disgruntled (former) bookstore owner who felt people had stopped being interested in reading, a 96 year old woman who encouraged me to be more patient, an Amish couple who invited the bookstore to visit their community, a man who asked if he could set up a listening booth at the bookstore one afternoon (which he did), a woodcarver who said he normally got books from Amazon but was considering other options now, as well as many more.

These are tough times and exploring ideas through reading and conversations can make a difference.

multidimensional

Libby, MT

Perhaps if I was more of a tech head, I could figure out how to have multiple columns in one post. There would be vertical lines dividing the different columns where thoughts could run parallel and distinct but at the same time could be scanned horizontally to see how ideas overlapped. That layout might capture the complexity of a traveling bookstore and its owner, at least at this moment in time.

Instead a dedicated reader must slug through paragraphs and sort out what and how different segments connect. In 1964, Lorraine Hansberry wrote, “Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be – if there is to be a world.” Last summer a couple about to get married visited the bookstore. This summer over two thousand children are in US detention camps. In August, the bookstore set up at the Riverfront Blues Festival where many good conversations were had over the awesome two-day event about books, about life, about music, about writing, about the world. In August, a man killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio with an assault rifle. That event happened in thirty-two seconds.

Plans are underway for the next cross-country traveling bookstore trip. Friends, friends of friends, people I don’t really know, someone’s second cousin reach out to offer advice where to set up along the way, offer places to stay. This adventure stretches from October 14 to November 11, from Eureka, Montana to Baltimore, Maryland and back. The anchor event for the series of stops is the 24th Annual Baltimore Book Festival (November 1-3). Some people ask if I am afraid to take my bookstore to Baltimore, to set up there for three days, to travel alone. No, because I could be a victim of a mass shooting in Dayton or El Paso or at a garlic festival, in a school, at a place of worship. But that possibility does not stop me from writing about the world as I think it “ought to be and must be.” It won’t stop the bookstore from opening its doors in cities, in small towns, at breweries, cafes and farmers markets.

Lincoln County Fair 2017

But before heading off to Baltimore, there is the Lincoln County Fair on August 23 – 25. Kids enter their 4H livestock, judges sample pies, jams and breads, pavilions fill with quilts, art, vegetables and flowers, and there is the fairway with all sorts of food, booths and games. St. Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore has been setting up at this fair since it first stocked its book shelves in 2015. The event is a highlight of summer to hear what young people are up to, how older residents are doing, what issues take up space in this county.

To give perspective for those outside of Montana – Lincoln County has more square miles than Delaware. It is a county where 24% of the children live in poverty. Libby, the county seat, has the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD) clinic where 12% of county residents have been diagnosed with asbestos-related disease.

It is not entirely easy to be a traveling bookstore owner, but I am doing it because I believe in a world that ought to be.

midsummer

OverIMG_1357 coffee this morning jotted down some bookstore thoughts.  Now with a few weeks’ perspective, there is the wonder of my Western States Bookstore Tour and all the great things that came from that – new people, new gig locations, new sights to remember, old friends, revisiting places I had set up before that welcomed me back. For those of you who might consider starting up your own traveling bookstore business, I will caution that 3-4 weeks on the road is exhilarating and exhausting.  So many adventures! Some nail biting, some heart warming.  For now it is a treat to be back in Montana and know that for the rest of the summer I will mostly be peddling books in these parts.

Since returning home, bookstore wonders happen even in Lincoln County, Montana.  The county is large by some standards; has more square miles than Delaware but a population just shy of 20,000 people.  So lots of forests and mountains, rivers and lakes but rather small towns.  Last week with the bookstore at the Eureka farmers market, I started talking with Stella, a young person who obviously loves books.  Turns out she is an avid reader and hopes to become a journalist after college.  But as she is currently twelve years old, still has time to change her mind. She mentioned doing a regular podcast about books.  Definitely appreciate a young person who isn’t shy about her passion and is willing to actualize something she cares about.

A realization that came from having the bookstore at farmers markets – perhaps all those luscious vegetables and fruits at booths near by – was how books are like fertilizer.  They help ideas grow.  They nurture new thoughts.  They strengthen so many things from general knowledge to vocabulary to understanding of cultures.  I suppose having a Textual Apothecary, this thought shouldn’t have surprised me but it did.

A few short notes…

Mission Pie which is a wonderful place in San Fransisco that hosted the bookstore and Type-Ins numerous times will close its doors on September 1.  So very thankful for all they gave the community over the years.IMG_1440

I recently completed a chapbook with Shirley Jacobs and will have limited copies available at the bookstore.

Upcoming bookstore events (although there are bound to be more which will be updated on the bookstore’s Facebook page):

every Wednesday at Eureka Farmers Market 3:30 – 6:30

every Friday at Trego Farmers Market 4:00 – 7:00 (unless scheduled for another event)

July 18 TBC Laughing Dog Brewery, Sandpoint ID

July 19 – 20 Yaak music festival, Yaak MT

August 9 – 10 Riverfront Blues Festival, Libby MT

August 23-25 Lincoln County Fair, Eureka MT

September 14 Kootenai Harvest Festival, Libby MT

 

The West

Just finished ten days of the traveling bookstore’s 2019 Western States Tour. Two weeks to go but so much happened already, it made sense to write. In fact, so much happened, I need to write although I doubt I can capture it all.

Weather  Last year on the Grand North Carolina and Back Tour, the traveling 73F83AF2-BBC6-4943-8B84-B51A053A2DCAbookstore hit the road in early April. Having barely survived single digit temperatures, blowing snow, and fingers too cold to type, I decided to wait until mid May this year to start a major tour with the bookstore.  Thus a surprise to get hit by freezing rain in Wyoming and blowing snow in Colorado. Thankfully managed to dodge a major storm and made it safely through Glenwood Canyon the day after a serious rock slide closed the interstate highway.

15E4EDCC-B878-42F2-96E4-8AAF6868EA61Mechanics  Having a traveling bookstore by definition requires a vehicle.  Those mobile bookstores that stay in one city have the luxury of going to the same trusted mechanic whenever there’s an issue.  A travel-all-over-the-country kind of bookstore obviously requires a different approach. And then add the intricacies of a Sprinter van with a Mercedes diesel  engine to further complicate life.  There were indeed some intense moments.  I couldn’t bear to watch Aaron, a very patient tow truck driver, load the bookstore the morning it wouldn’t start (Sarah took the photo).  It was Farley’s in Casper that got us back on the road that day.  And when some issues persisted in Buena Vista, CO, All Valley Auto came through.  That mechanic didn’t have the necessary parts but managed to troubleshoot to get us to Grand Junction. There Scotty’s took over to get the bookstore squared away before the long Memorial Day weekend and the next leg of the tour.  I never had the opportunity to talk books with any of these mechanics but they all did their best to get the bookstore back on the road in a timely manner.  Only missed one day of gigs (Stella’s in Denver and Elevation Beer in Poncha Springs) and otherwise managed to get where we needed to be.

People How to describe so many good people met along the way besides the mechanics and tow truck 1FFAF4F6-B596-4D48-B609-42D942CF4BAAdrivers? It warmed my heart to open at Sheridan’s Black Tooth Brewery, and readers I met there last year showed up to buy books.  Virginia graciously housed us in Casper even when it required an extra day and she had never met us before.  The waitress at Johnny J’s Diner let us sit for hours over coffee and pie while waiting for the bookstore to get fixed. Connie and Duff held dinner til we finally pulled into Buena Vista, and served great White Chicken Chili to thaw us out.  Plus their neighbor donated a box of books to help my inventory! Cafe Dawn and Eddy Out @whitewaterwraps made room for the bookstore to set up in Salida.  A customer there stopped by to bring chocolate chip cookies and buy books. At Glenwood Springs during a non-bookstore stop, had the good fortune to meet Darwin Raymond who has a wonderful typewriter repair shop and an amazing Moluccan cockatoo named JJ.  In Grand Junction, a very kind soul traded two dozen fresh eggs for a book and told us stories about her chickens.  Besides the people who purchased books, there are those who provide space for the bookstore to open, put me up, offered meals, let friends know where I’d be setting up next, and in many fine ways support the quirky existence of a traveling bookstore.

Thank you.